Micro- and nano-scale taggants and forensic markers present major opportunities

The development and evolution of a diverse range of taggant / forensic marker technologies and solutions has opened up a wide array of markets and applications. Some  market opportunities are already well developed, while others are still in the early stages of market uptake.

This is still early days for Taggants / Forensic Markers and that there is a substantial potential upside for future growth with highly profitable outstanding business opportunities.

Solution providers have been tackling the many challenges from many different perspectives. For example, some solution providers base solutions on security printing, packaging and labeling while others come from the materials' protection business involving fuels, fibres and explosives.

Solution providers have been coming at these challenges for different points of the compass. With some providers rooted in security print, packaging & labels. While other solution providers come from backgrounds of protecting such materials as explosives, fuels and cotton

The multi-facetted World of taggants is characterised by complexity and subtlety:

  • The range of types of Taggant technologies that are available today - Each with distinct attributes & suitability for different types of application (both in terms of chemistry and scale as well as other factors such as - ingestibility)
  • The spectrum of types of service that solution providers can offer to customers according to individual needs, from global full services solutions to localised user self-applied solutions.

The very small physical dimensions belie the increasing importance and opportunities in this business.

Taggant / Forensic Marker technology is today well proven and is used extensively in a variety of security related application areas across a number of large and important markets.

Covert 3rd level of Defence Taggants / Forensic Markers must not contaminate the product in any way (especially if ingestible, or even skin contact).

In order to ensure that a marked products and / or packaging / labels are not affected or impacted in any way, taggants are in general designed, as far as possible to be:

  • Chemically inert
  • Odourless / Colourless / Tasteless
  • Non-toxic.

Forensic compounds generally take the form of very specific chemical or biological substances that are specially engineered and are not naturally occuring in the real World - So therefore cannot be copied unless a high degree of reverse engineering is involved (and even then this is intended to be extemely difficult).

Taggants / Forensic Markers - Some Key USPs

  • Admissible as conclusive evidence in Courts of Law  - Underpinned by laboratory verifiable forensic evidence - Support Services / Lab tests / In-the-field
  • Serialisation (a major growth area in authentication technology) is not actually a 'guarantee of authenticity' for product contents - And this can be critical in 'track and trace' applications that require security (Track and Trace is also a fast growing industry across a number of vertical markets globally)

Other attributes include:

  • Highly Covert - Very small physical dimensions - Micro scale right down to nano scale
  • Option to mark both packaging and / or product (providing additional security that may be cross-checked)
  • Robust technology
  • Tightly controlled manufacturing process (single supplier source - not multiple suppliers)
  • Readers that will not give false positive results
  • A broad selection of technologies are available to meet diverse needs
  • Can be uniquely formulated (in terms of complexity & concentration, encoding) and tailored, engineered and certified to individual clients providing exclusivity to each application.

The strength of such taggant technologies in resisting replication attacks by unauthorised parties relies on several unique criteria:

  • Formulation & complexity and formulation 
  • Can be tailored and engineered to specific client profiles 
  • Extremely difficult to reverse engineer or replicate 
  • Nano-scale size and covert qualities
  • Involves a proprietary well researched methodology that embraces laboratory verifiable evidence that can be used in a court of law.

Forensic marking systems that are highly adaptable with many possible permutations may tend to gain more favour than those that are limited by the number of variations possible.  

In addition to authentication and dilution detection, uniquely coded taggants / forensic markers can provide positive ID for specific products, batches, manufacturing source and other specific information.

Note:  Nonetheless, some taggants that are commercially available today may actually be relatively be easy to replicate (especially if they have been commercially available for a relatively long period and the counterfeiters have had time to compromise the technology).

Food for thought - Counterfeiters are getting smarter all the time so there is a general trend to try to stay one step ahead. It can be useful for law enforcement in certain types of investigation to be able to exploit the fact that Taggants / forensic markers are present but the criminal is unaware of the fact.

Markets - Taggants / Forensic Markers

Taggants / Forensic Markers are set to become increasingly central to positive irrefutable product authentication across a range of end user vertical markets - Selected vertical markets identified as being of particular interest and / or with brand owners having the most to gain:

Actual and potential markets & business opportunities have been identified across the following markets and applications:

  • Printing inks
  • Packaging / labels
  • Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare
  • Alcoholic Drinks - Spirits & Wines
  • Packaged Food Products
  • Luxury Accessories - Jewelry & Watches
  • Beauty - Toiletries, Cosmetics & Skincare
  • Tobacco Products
  • Tax Stamps
  • Defence & Aerospace - Electronics
  • Automotive Parts & Components Aftermarket (including Tyres)
  • Fibres, Yarn, Threads, Textiles, Wovens
  • Apparel, Soft Furnishings, Industrial wovens
  • Finished Products - Fibres, Yarn, Thread, Textiles, Wovens
  • Agrochemicals
  • Fuels & Lubricants.

Other Markets of Potential Interest - Taggants / Forensic Markers:

  • Bearings (grease packed ball / roller)
  • Industrial Fasteners
  • Other Types of Mechanical Parts, Components
  • Construction Industry - Building Materials
  • Paints & Coatings
  • Imaging Supplies ? Printer Consumables.

Note: There is no real limit to the variety of applications for taggants / forensic markers ? Where a problem of counterfeiting arises, this approach can always be examined on a case by case basis - It is, however, believed that the main areas of opportunity have been highlighted in this report.

Ingestible Taggants / Non-Ingestible Taggants

In addition to other types of applications, some types of taggants can be FDA approved for human ingestion (also animal feed and veterinary) types of applications

This special category of taggants have significant growth prospects across several vertical markets.

For ingestible products, such as pharmaceuticals, foods, alcoholic drinks, agrochemicals and the like, a range of regulatory-approved (eg: FDA, EU).markers are commercially available today that have the capability to authenticate an actual product itself

Ingestibility is an attribute that will see increasing interest in terms of taggants, but regulations vary from region to region around the World.

Products that come in to contact with skin externally -Beauty products, should also be grouped here

This is typically accomplished by means of the integration of the taggant in powders, coatings, liquids, packaging including direct to tablets and capsules - nano-etched coatings? 

Brand owners need convincing indicators about:

  • The safety to consumers or patients of adding them to their ingestible products - There is no risk
  • That the taggant will not interact with any of the ingredients in directly marked product
  • The ease with which they can be incorporated into their existing manufacturing lines and distribution systems

One approach can be naturally occurring markers that are considered safe by the food regulators. Synthetically made taggants may not be looked on so favourably. In any case, rigorous testing is required.

Prospects for the market for ingestible taggants looks very favourable with potential for significant growth given the incidence of counterfeiting in these sectors and the increasing regulatory requirements for product traceability through the supply chain driving item level and batch ID and traceability. 

Ingestible taggants providers can deliver precise quantities of taggant to brand owner clients for incorporation:

  • In / On secure Packaging / Labels
  • In / On products.

The customer then can select what product information it would like to associate with the assigned signatures or what printed information is on the secure label.

Main Families of Taggants Forensic Markers - Micro / Nano

A number of technology based solution type options have been developed to address the different requirements and demands across a variety of market sectors.

Micro-scale - Micro-metre size range

  • Optical microscope detection
  • Medium level requirement
  • Brand management

Nano-scale - Nano-metre size range

  • Not detectable by optical means
  • Safety / Mission critical.

Where micro-scale solutions have already been compromised.

The main families of taggants that are available commercially today may be segmented as follows:ÿ

1st Generation - micro-scale taggants (order of 10-6metres physical dimensions)

  • Micro-scale particles
  • Micro nameplates and dots
  • Multi-layered micro-scale taggants
  • Other.........

2nd Generation - nano-scale taggants (order of 10-9 metres physical dimensions)

  • Organic DNA Based Taggants
  • Inorganic Synthetic Taggants-Rare Earths and the like
  • Up-Converting Phosphors / Colour Change / Fluorescence
  • Up-Converting Phosphors - Anti-Stokes luminescence
  • Quantum Dots
  • Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS)
  • Other........

While 1st generation - micro-scale - taggants forensic markers may be considered sufficiently robust for a variety of applications, the 2nd generation - nano-scale - taggants offer a much higher level of security for the following reasons - Indeed nano-scale taggants / forensic markers are inherently more secure than micro-scale taggants.

  • Only authorised persons know that these taggants are even present
  • Only authorised persons know how to locate the taggants (spectrometry tuned to narrow frequencies, DNA sequencing techniques)
  • Even if in the unlikely event that the taggants could be isolated by unauthorised personnel, they would be extremely difficult to reverse engineer.

So, a key difference is that Micro scale taggants can be identified with a standard microscope, which brings the concept of reverse engineering at least with the realms of the possible. Nano scale taggants on the other hand are up to 3 orders of magnitude smaller (or 1,000 x smaller) and can only be detected with specialised laboratory equipment tuned to specific wavelengths or other characteristics known only to authorised testers.

If the would-be counterfeiter cannot even detect the taggant, then faking it is going to be very hard.

Taggants / Forensic Markers - Combined with other Anti counterfeit Technologies for Brand Protection

Taggants can be used as 2nd and / or 3rd level of defence devices (although not as a 1st level authentication feature):

  • 2nd level defence - Requires a special quite sophisticated reader to identify the extremely small amount of tracer used to identify provenance, but can be used in the field
  • 3rd level defence - The presence of these forensic markers can only be recognised by specialist laboratory equipment, putting identification of and therefore attempts to replicate the technology beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced counterfeiter. This forensic level of verification is admissible in a Court of Law, if required. The evidence is presented in a similar manner to that applied to DNA. 

A single taggant can be used for an application, or multiple taggant technologies can work together to create an even higher level of security.

For security packaging or labels, taggants can be combined with a variety of other security and brand protection features to create a more holistic secure solution, for example:

  • Custom Holograms
  • Thermochromic inks
  • Various tamper-evident construction
  • Invisible Bar codes and serial numbers
  • Laser marking that writes information directly on an internal layer of seals or labels.

Extraction / Reading Forensic Markers

Marker ID's can be read /extracted for verification by a variety of methods. For instance a unique marker pen could be used to reveal a colour change, or a hand held verifier can be brought into contact with the forensic compound in such a way that an audible or visible message of authenticity is delivered to the inspector.

Other methods involve recovering the marker (in a laboratory) and then confirming its presence through specific analysis that could involve microscopic viewing, spectrographic analysis or even DNA profiling. 

A degree of operator intervention is required to verify the presence of taggants as well as to establish the level of distribution and concentration. A microscope, spectral illumination source, radiation measurement or testing kit is required to detect and measure.


Major Vandagraf Market Study Report published in 2017

Micro- and nano-scale taggants and forensic markers Major Market opportunities

This Vandagraf report provides a comprehensive and in-depth view of this complex business area.

Full report title:

"Taggants Forensic Markers for Anti-Counterfeit, Brand Protection & Product Authentication - Business and market Opportunities in 2017 with forecasts to 2022".

This comprehensive techno-economic report comprises 2 volumes:

  • Volume I – Technology Overview & Trends/Applications Areas - Taggants / Forensic Markers – 150 pages
  • Volume II – Analysis of End User Vertical Markets/Summary of Market Sizing & Forecasts – Taggants / Forensic Markers - 160 pages.

The report profiles 93 key solution providers and other players and identifies and analyses:

Vandagraf has set out to de-mystify the dynamically growing, complex and multi-facetted Taggant / Forensic Marker business.

  • the various types of technology that are available;
  • the various delivery methods and "carriers",
  • the vertical markets served today and those that could benefit in the future;
  • the types of applications business opportunities for solution providers, ink makers, brand owners and others.

This report contains market and business opportunities evaluated together with a technology overview and profiles of  solution providers.

This Vandagraf report can provide support to companies needing to make informed & wise strategic decisions in relation the new World of colour inkjet digital for the immediate term and for the future.

Aim of the Report

This Report sets out to:

  • Make sense of this multi-facetted complex and shifting matrix of a marketplace
  • To provide a roadmap for the industry
  • To quantify the market opportunities & challenges.

The market for Connected Packaging / labels  has evolved and advanced significantly over the past 2 or 3 years and consequently we at Vandagraf  decided to research and write a major Report on this subject.

The new Vandagraf Connected Packaging Report completed in July 2019 is seen as timely for a number of reasons, including a number of key evolutions, as outlined in the previous pages of this White Paper.

Report Content Overview

The Report contains:

  • In-depth analysis of Business & Market Opportunities, Competitive Analysis & Technology Status
  • Quantitative market sizing estimates & forecasts for Early Adopter Branded Retail Products
  • Trends & Drivers highlighted & analysed
  • Numerous Case Studies
  • Solution Provider Profiles
  • and much more…………………..

The new Report shows where the opportunities are being created and provides a valuable tool for assisting in investment decisions for any player wishing to position themselves effectively to exploit the emerging market opportunities.

  • Full Table of Contents and additional info available on request.

 For further information, please contact: info@vandagraf.com